Race is an unjust judge

by Anna Hartge

In Luke 18.1-8, Jesus shares a parable with those gathered to demonstrate the necessity of prayer and faith.  He tells them of an unjust judge who neither fears God nor respects anyone.  Consequently, one may wonder by what authority does this judge render his verdicts and to what purpose does this vocation fulfill, having no care for God and no concern for people?  Jesus continues, saying that there is a widow who appeals to him for justice regarding her adversary.  And she pleads incessantly.  In fact, she makes this request so many times that irritated by the constant barrage of her petitions, he grants it.  But even his verdict is not honorable in that he concedes not because she has proven her case but because he is simply sick and tired of hearing her story.  He is tired of coming from his chambers only to see her yet again in his courtroom.  He does not care about her plight or the pain that her adversary has caused her.  He’s heard it all before.

Race is much like this judge— unjust, irreverent, and uncaring.  Yet, many of us still plead with it.  We hope that in turning to race, whether through Black Nationalism or white supremacy, that the wrongs committed by our adversaries will be made right.  But, race has no faith in God or interest in the reconciling of humanity.  And there is no justice in race.  Its cases, whether for privilege or powerlessness, are unfounded and its judgments are unequal.  Race is not with God or for humanity. Like any other human- made god, it was fashioned by our lips.  It is us who render and live its judgments.  But, there is a greater Judge who is compassionate and quick to come to our aid.  But, do we have faith in this God or race?

Rev. Starlette McNeill

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Joseph M. Smith October 19, 2010 - 9:43 am

First, a small grammatical point: “It is we who …” not “It is us who …”

Your article presupposes a great deal. It presupposes that your reader is familiar with the idea that race is, as you suggest in your email, an artificial use of language rather than a truly biological or scientific reality. I think that needs to be made more clear.

I like the use of the unjust judge parable. I have just finished reading a biography of Gandhi, and am struck by how Gandhi would have characterized the judge’s actions as “violent.” For Gandhi, race was a violent concept, used by any group, even the depressed classes, to marginalize or put down another group. For him all issues of that sort were ultimately spiritual and not political.

But do we not also need to think about race as a cultural construct, if not a linguistic one? I am who I am in part because of the setting in which I was raised … in my case, white, lower middle class, border state, Baptist, etc. IN PART … that means it is not all-determinative. I can make decisions. And by the grace of God I can submit to positive and corrective influences from others. Still, as I make my way through life, can I not see others in their cultural settings and appreciate those influences, without evaluating (all too often devaluing) them?

Having said all that, I do know too that what meets the eye is not all there is to know about a person!

Rev. Starlette McNeill October 19, 2010 - 12:33 pm

Primarily, thank you for reading my reflection. I am so glad that you took the time to intellectually spar with me on something that I care so much about. It means a lot.
Secondly, while I agree that race can be considered a cultural construct and the practice of racism a cultural one, I do not equate race with culture. It does not carry the meanings or memories that the music, food, language, and dress of my culture as an African American.

It is a meaning imposed by an unjust society not given by one’s family or passed down by one’s ancestors as in the case of cultural retentions. The meanings of race are attributed to the pseudo- color of one’s skin not one’s culture. The purpose of race then lies in oppression and the unjust assigning of social roles and restrictions not identity development and formation. For me, race is not who we are but how we are viewed through the prejudicial lens of others. And this is why I call for its end.

prof. allen podet October 19, 2010 - 12:35 pm

Excellent, thoughtful, and well written. The comment only helps make it better. I would have preferred a more formal style but I can see that the style used is more appropriate. Keep up the good work.

Amy Butler October 19, 2010 - 4:27 pm

First of all, I struggled with this text this past week so it was great to read another spin on it. Secondly, I just find your approach to be so fresh and prophetic—not willing to gloss over the pain and the problems but trying instead to turn our attention to the deeper truths. I know for sure that the church needs your voice; get it out there!!

Kevin Fennell October 19, 2010 - 5:03 pm

Unfortunately, the subject of racism is a continual controversial issue within everyday American society. As I read, “Race is an unjust judge” I believe that racial equality is such a new concept within our lives that many raw emotions still cloud our judgment. Longstanding hatred and hurt feelings eat away at the good intentions and bold efforts that the majority of Americans are trying to promote. Far too many people speak of equality and hope, yet secretly rationalize hate, based on little more than stereotypes and stories of atrocities that happened generations ago. The rise of racism should not be a surprise to Christians who are watching for the return of Jesus Christ. We know that society will not get better prior to the Lord’s return, the apostle Paul said it would get worse in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,13. Jesus Christ cited racial strife as one of the signs of His soon return in Matthew 24:7, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” The Greek word from the original text translated “nation” is “ethnos” which means a people or race.

If we’re honest, most Americans will tell you, that they are not racist individuals. However, as an African American male, I’ve come realize that many people, are either fooling themselves, or just being politically correct. When you delve deeper into the subconscious of the human psyche, you discover that many of us have reasons that we believe justifies racism. These so called reasons or excuses include the reverse discrimination of Affirmative Action, ignorance of other races, and the belief in the need for retribution for past injustices.

Maybe we should all take some time to look at these issues and into our own hearts, to see if together we can learn to be better as a species. If (and I underline the word If) we are true followers of Christ, we will obey his command to, “make disciples of all the nations” regardless of race (Matthew 28:19). My Bible tells me that all races will be represented in heaven, “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The Bible tells us that all men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Malachi 2:10) Thank you Rev. McNeill for taking a stand in today’s “Can we all just along society.”

NaKeisha October 21, 2010 - 11:01 pm

Wow, Rev., this is quite a thought-provoking article. The theme would make an excellent discussion topic. I would love to learn more about your view that the construct of race is inherently problematic, and to what extent that view influences your thoughts on diversity, if at all. Maybe you’ll write about that one day? Got to love Rev. Brenda and her ministry. Congratulations on your well-written piece, and being featured on her site!

george.odom@med.navy/mil November 5, 2010 - 2:44 pm

This article was well put together and using the parable about the judge was brilliant. If only others could see it in this manner the world would be a better place. It seems as if you have your calling….keep up the good work….stay the course and keep writing….I’m going to forward this to my close circle of friends for discussion…
George W. Odom

Margot Eyring November 7, 2010 - 10:58 pm

Hi Kevin,

I would like to respond to your comment, “My Bible tells me that all races will be represented in heaven, “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).” I agree with you this passage indicates many diverse people who look different will be in heaven. And based on passages that speak of God’s special care for the marginalized and oppressed, I’m confident that those who have been victims of “race” will be represented in heaven as well. But, I’m sure perpetrators of “race” will also be there.

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by your statement. There is nothing specifically about “race” in this passage. My understanding is that race as a construct was not even invented until the last century (or maybe two centuries ago by now). Something invented so recently cannot be a construct discussed or referred to in the Bible, although there may be Biblical principles that could apply to the construct.

My sense of Rev. Starlette McNeills provocation is that she is making the case that we need to be more careful about the use of our language and particularly the way in which we idolize the concept of race and use it as an orienting category. She seems to be arguing for a different kind of conversation–one that is based in scripture and doesn’t rely on constructs that were invented for the purpose of discrimination to be the vehicles for seeking shalom and justice. How can we rely on an unjust judge to adjudicate justly?

I’m looking forward to that new conversation and where it might take us.

Rev. Starlette McNeill* November 9, 2010 - 9:07 am

I am grateful to all who have read and responded to this post. The eradication of race is my contribution to the ministry of Jesus Christ. I believe that race is a social construct and a spiritual hindrance. The identity provided to us through our relationship with Jesus Christ and the pseudo- identity provided to us through our societal connection to race are conflictual and incompatible.

Margot is right in that race is a recent construction. Francois Bernier, a 17th century physician, is credited with making the first attempt at classifying the “races” in his book New Division of Earth by the different species or races which inhabit it (1684). Winthrop Jordan in his book The White Man’s Burden: The Historical origins of Racism in the United States writes that the use of the term “white” did not appear in colonial law until 1680. And the truth remains that the attempt to prove race through cranial measurements, intelligence tests, social customs, hair structure and the like have all failed. The question then is, if proven imaginary, why do we work so hard to make it appear real?

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